How to Balance Your Kids' Cell Phone Use

Cell phones are definitely an asset to both kids and parents so Mighty Mommy shares 6 ways to balance the use of cell phones in your lives.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #444

As my kids start another new school year, I’m grateful that we just enjoyed an overall relaxing summer without a heavy schedule of commitments and sports practices, club activities and the usual running around we tend to do between September and May.  I will try to remind myself of this at the end of their first week back, because now that school’s in session, our day-to-day lifestyle has just intensified in every area possible.

One thing that does help me breathe a lot easier is the fact that despite the many different directions we all go throughout the week, we can at least stay connected and communicate thanks to the modern day tool of our cell phones.  Because my 8 kids all have cell phones, I do have a piece of mind when they are out and about attending sporting events, after-school commitments including their part-time jobs.  On the other hand, this same piece of technology that allows us to stay in touch while we are apart also has a downside—they’re distracting and at times addicting.  And it’s not just kids, we parents can be just as sidetracked with our smart phones as our kids. 

Cell phones are definitely an asset to both kids and parents so Mighty Mommy shares 6 ways to balance the use of cell phones in your lives.

Tip #1: Set Limits

Although my kids have a pretty good understanding of family rules, what behaviors are accepted and not, and where the “wiggle room” is in terms of boundaries (not much!), they still look to me to set limits for what will be tolerated in our family home.  We have curfews, scheduled chores and regular family meetings to keep our large family on track.  I work full-time, and so does their father so we aren’t able to keep watch of their technology habits round the clock. 

That said, we knew we had to establish limits on our kid’s texting and calling time because we couldn’t physically monitor it while both myself and their father were at work.

In 10 Ways to Get Your Kids Off Their Phone That Don’t Require Bribery we learn that "It's a parent's job to establish limits for the safe use of technology, so their kids can learn how to use communication devices in a healthy way," says Jamison Monroe, founder and CEO of Newport Academy, a mental health treatment program for teens. "You own your child's phone. It's your property. As a parent, you're in charge of setting common sense limits on its use, just like you do around driving, drugs, and alcohol." What's more, in this era of cyberbullying and online stalking, this is a safety issue for many teens, he adds.

So talk to your kids as this new school year begins and set rules and limits on what you deem acceptable for texting and calling both in and after school hours.

Tip #2: Sign a Contract

We found that having a written contract helped with cell phone expectations.  Keep kids accountable by signing a “family contract” about what is acceptable and not.

The best way to keep your kids informed about what you expect regarding cell phone usage is to put it in writing. A cell phone contract is a smart and effective way to discuss what is and is not appropriate regarding your kids' talk time. You can lay out the rules for when and for how long they can use their phones and who they can speak with. After you've gone over the rules, have your kids sign the contract and keep it in a highly visible place, like on the refrigerator door.

Tip #3: Limit Calling and Texting Times

One of my biggest frustrations with my children and their cell phones is that they had access to texting and calling 24/7.  Whether we were having a family dinner, or they were supposed to be doing a homework assignment, that cell phone of theirs was beckoning to them to reach out and connect with someone regardless of what they were supposed to be doing.  Thanks to phone carriers, however, parents are able to have parental control over texting and calling.

Many major phone providers -- including Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T -- offer services such as setting texting limits, blocking incoming or outgoing calls to certain phone numbers and shutting and locking the phone at certain times of the day or night. They may also provide GPS, so you can always see where your child is calling from. There is usually an additional fee per month per phone line for these services, but it's worth it to spend some phone-free time with your child. Besides, blocking extra texts and calls will prevent your kid from incurring any costly overage charges once she goes over her minutes or texts.

My ex-husband and I are on the same page when it comes to cell phone use.  We both monitor our kid’s accounts and found that when we locked into these parameters, our kids became reengaged with family time and kicked it up a notch with their school requirements.

Tip #4: Take a Phone Time Out

Everyone needs a phone time out, especially during mealtimes, when doing homework or when chilling out with the family. We had to physically sit down with our children to figure out the best time to put away cell phones.  I designated a special basket to store all our electronic devices (including mine!).  This way, your child won't be tempted to use her phone when she should be concentrating on a school assignment or connecting with the family during dinner or a special TV show you all like to watch together.


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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